AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2010
By Don Simpson | November 13, 2010
Director: John Doyle
Writer(s): Horton Foote
Starring: Amber Tamblyn, Orlando Bloom, Colin Firth, Patricia Clarkson, Andrew McCarthy, Ellen Burstyn
Georgiana (Ellen Burstyn) lives alone in the grand old family estate of her father’s defunct tobacco plantation in Durham, North Carolina. To make ends meet, she has rented out one of her vacant tobacco warehouses to a Texan named Gus Leroy (Colin Firth). Questioning her own judgment, Georgiana enlists her niece Willa (Patricia Clarkson) to assist her in rethinking this agreement with Gus, but first she wants to know what Gus is storing in the warehouse. The answer: toxic waste (the new frontier of our economy).
A somewhat unrelated subplot focuses on a young cop by day and law student by night named Harris (Orlando Bloom) and his ex-girlfriend Mary (Amber Tamblyn). Mary has moved on and is dating an older co-worker, Howard (Andrew McCarthy), from Raleigh; nonetheless, Harris continues to nag, call and basically stalk Mary…but this is okay because he still loves her. Other than exemplifying how confused and irresponsible young people in small towns (though Durham, with over 250,000 residents, does not really qualify as a small town) can be, these two characters really serve no purpose.
Main Street (no relation to Sinclair Lewis’ novel) is one of the first films in a long while that actually made me angry…and not in a good way.
I guess I have a problem with actors speaking in non-natural accents, especially when the actors have very prominent accents to begin with. For example, British or Australian actors playing Americans with thick as molasses southern accents. Colin Firth and Orlando Bloom are perfect examples of this – I do not find it natural, in fact I find it extremely distracting, to hear them speak in accents that are supposed to be native to Texas and North Carolina. It would not be so bad if Firth and Bloom (both extremely capable actors) were able to pull off the accents well, but they do not; in fact, they fail miserably.
The accents are not the only thing that got my panties all in a bunch. My biggest annoyance is more political — Main Street seems to be a Palin-esque eulogy for the good old days, back when Main Streets across the United States bustled with business and when tobacco was not directly associated with cancer and dying (thanks to the pesky meddling of big government regulators). Young people are confused and act irrationally; they crave education and have no commitment to their family or their hometown. The older generations and the average folk (you know, the “Joe the Plummers” of the country) are feeling the pains of the economic downturn and forced to make drastic compromises – such as allowing a Texan and his two Hispanic (read: immigrant) guards to store hazardous waste on one’s property as well as selling their cherished family estate where they have lived every day of their lives. (But the elderly of America will not have to worry for very long – according to the Republicans, Tea Party and Libertarians at least – because the “socialist by conduct” President Obama and his Obamacare will kill them as soon as possible in order to make way for more young urban intellectuals.)
Also, it is quite a stretch to blame the youth of today — as Main Street seems to do — for the demise of the Main Streets across the United States. Youth started moving away from small towns not because they hated their families or because the town was boring, but because there was no work available. Small town economies were not adaptable to population growth and modernity; they could not compete with the colossal corporate chains stealing away revenue from local businesses. In short, as I see it, it was the unfair competition born of a corporate-biased free market system that destroyed Main Street, not the youth of today.
Main Street is all about looking backward and that is certainly not going to help anyone at this point. For better or worse (mostly worse), we live in a much different world than when Main Streets were thriving. Please do not misunderstand me — whenever I have the option (which I often do, living in Austin), I shop at local businesses. I would love for the United States to re-prioritize its economic strategies to strengthen local economies, allowing for more locally owned businesses to thrive in their hometown. My problem with Main Street is that it is too busy whining about the demise of Main Streets and pointing fingers at who and what caused the problem (or at least that is what I think this muddled mess of a movie is doing), rather than offering any viable solutions.
It is extremely sad that waste disposal might just become the backbone of our economy in the near future — I certainly agree with Main Street on that point — and for some people that might be reason enough to produce more and more waste (the more hazardous and longer-lasting the better). But, have you ever considered what long-term effects hazardous waste (and waste in general) is going to have on our environment? (Oh, that’s right, climate change does not exist. Sorry, how so very naïve of me to believe scientific evidence over corporate and religious propaganda.)
All politics (and bad accents) aside, John Doyle directorial debut is a horrible mess of a film. I thought the acting powerhouses (Burstyn, Clarkson and Firth) as well as Bloom and Tamblyn would make Main Street a worthwhile film, but in simply portraying uncreative stereotypes, they were given no opportunity to truly utilize their acting talents. It also does not help that Main Street gets so damn lost in terms of plot and message.
Horton Foote’s (the inaugural recipient of the Austin Film Festival’s Distinguished Screenwriter Award in 1995) daughter Hallie introduced the screening at the 2010 Austin Film Festival, saying that her deceased father was 92 years old when he wrote Main Street which is his final screenplay. Hopefully history will choose to forget Main Street and instead remember Foote as the scriptwriter of films such as To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and The Chase (1966).